Thursday, July 13, 2006

“We had the Super Collider. We battled the bullet train. And what was achieved by this was a waste of tax dollars.”

Road kill

July 13, 2006

Waxahatchie Daily Light
Copyright 2006

After public hearings began for the Trans-Texas Corridor this week, the Texas Department of Transportation has become an easy target for residents across the state.

Monday night more than 200 residents gathered in Ennis to question and voice their concerns over the Trans-Texas Corridor and last night more than 400 gathered in Waxahachie to do the same.

The TTC 35 portion of the statewide, 50-year, transportation plan is still in the early design phases but after public hearings wrap up in August, TxDOT will submit its proposal to the Federal Highway Administration for approval and begin whittling down the current 10-mile environmental study to a 1,200 foot right-of-way that stretches from Laredo to the Texas-Oklahoma border.

According to TxDOT, the TTC 35 will use existing infrastructure whenever possible and in some locations, two or more corridors may be used to carry rail, commercial trucks, passenger vehicles and utilities from one end of the state to the other.

The state has released 12 alternative routes for the TTC 35 with seven of the routes showing Ellis County as path for the 1,200 foot wide right-of-way.

The state’s preferred route has the corridor stretching through Ellis County from Milford to east of Ferris.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, was joined by representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and state Sen. Kip Averitt, along with a number of local elected officials from Lancaster, Desoto and others.

Waxahachie City Council members Joe Jenkins and Chuck Beatty were also on hand, along with Ellis County Commissioners Heath Sims, Pct. 3, and Ron Brown, Pct. 4.

“I cannot support the current draft for the TTC,” Pitts said. “I see that for most of the corridor, the Interstate 35 corridor is used. I believe that is sound. I do not agree that it veers to the east north of Waco and it cuts completely through Ellis and Hill County. I cannot believe that is the best alternative.”

Pitts said that in November of 2005 a group met formally in his office to discuss a solution to the TTC for Ellis and Hill County.

The group agreed upon connecting the corridor to the Highway 360 and Loop 9 corridor.

“I find it makes better sense,” Pitts said. “For many years TxDOT has been talking about Loop 9 and this would solve a problem with high volumes of traffic. The North Central Texas Council of Governments and the commissioners’ courts in Hill and Ellis County have looked extensively at the idea and hope TxDOT gives this its close attention. The current route will destroy prime farming acreage. I do not believe we can destroy this much land. Land owners are not only concerned that too much land will be required, not to mention revenue from the land, but that they’ll also lose access to their land. I’m asking TxDOT to give careful consideration to an alternative route that’s being supported by the NCTCOG. I believe the citizens of Ellis County will be more agreeable to this route.”

The Loop 9 corridor was planned originally in 1956 to loop around the metroplex, south of Interstate 20.

The loop is planned to run along the border of Dallas and Ellis counties.

The Ellis County Commissioners Court passed a resolution Monday morning showing its support for looking closely at the Highway 360 and Loop 9 corridors.

Joe Tillotson, mayor of Lancaster, also came out in support of the Highway 360 alternative.

“I’m not here to discuss the merits of the TTC,” Tillotson said. “I’m here representing the interests of the residents of Lancaster. We have no direct fight with the TTC and we understand the goal is to facilitate the movement of goods and people. But when it gets to Hillsboro is where our problems begin.”

Tillotson pointed out that the current preferred route skips Lancaster and South Dallas.

“I recall what happened to Mineola and others along Interstate 80 when Interstate 20 was built,” Tillotson said. “We prefer the NCTCOG’s route on Highway 360 and Loop 9. If the route follows the 360 corridor it alleviates 60 miles of roadway. We’re hopeful wisdom will prevail because if it doesn’t, politics will.”

Sims also expressed a number of his concerns and issues with the TTC 35 cutting through Ellis County.

“I have a number of concerns about a highway cutting through prime farm land,” Sims said. “I’m concerned about what this highway will be. I’m concerned about water, school bus routes, emergency response. It may take traveling six miles one way just to get to a crossing over or under this highway.”

Sims pointed out that the Ellis County Commissioners Court approved a resolution supporting the Regional Transportation Council and NCTCOG’s plan for 360 and Loop 9.

“I’m concerned about a foreign company having control over construction,” Sims said. “As I figure, the likely route between Lake Bardwell and Lake Waxahachie, I’m estimating there will be 40-50 county roads that will be cut off. Who will be responsible for building overpasses or underpasses for those roads? Will it be the local authorities or the state? There are 30 different drainage systems in that area and a lot of flood areas. Twelve soil conservation lakes. If you build this highway there’s no where to put the water. I estimate there will be 10 farm-to-market roads affected and three major highways affected. Highways 34, 45 and 287. Our local residents will have increasing gas prices to get around a highway they likely won’t use very often. I do believe the rail will relieve congestion and I believe we should take a closer look at that.”

Along with current elected officials, GOP party leaders in the county as well as several Democratic candidates added their issues with the giant toll road.

“As the chair of the Republican party in Ellis County I hear quite a bit of feedback from the area,” Rusty Ballard said. “We had the Super Collider. We battled the bullet train. And what was achieved by this was a waste of tax dollars.”

Ballard said that the American Civil Engineers recently gave the American highway system a grade of D- and suggested the money be spent on improving the current highway system before expanding it.

“I’d also like to mention that Saturday, June 3, 2006, at the Republican Party Convention the party reaffirmed our position against the TTC because there are issues with the taking of land. We urged the legislature to repeal the TTC. There are too many concerns and until we can get answers we don’t need to move forward.”

David Honeycutt, a GOP precinct chair, added that the party also voted in 2004 to have HB 3538 rescinded, the legislation authorizing the TTC.

“We oppose toll roads being created from previously free roads,” Honeycutt said. “TxDOT has refused to release all documentation on the TTC and I urge you to recognize you have a moral and ethical reason to do so. And recognize that until you do, you are going against the platform of the majority party of the state of Texas.”

With Republicans coming out against the Gov. Rick Perry plan, state Rep. District 10 candidate Kerry Horn used the situation to point a finger at the governor and the GOP leadership.

“It’s sad for me to be here today to have to defend Texas from Texans,” Horn said. “TxDOT has done a beautiful job of putting lipstick on a pig. But it didn’t create it. The same people who said the Superconducting Super Collider was going to help us - trust us; the people who said utility deregulation would save us money - trust us; these things have been brought to us by the leadership of the majority party of Texas. And unlike my political opponent, I don’t support it from the Valley to the Waco, let alone from Waco to where it splits from Interstate 35. This is still a pig even if you put the lipstick on it.”

Democratic candidate for Agriculture commissioner, Hank Gilbert, also added his concerns.

“I am here as a representative of agriculture,” Gilbert said. “This is about everybody’s quality of life. You can’t put a price tag on it. The cost on family farms is priceless. You’re talking about putting a major highway over quality farm land. All this will benefit is the governments of Mexico and Canada and South America. I would like to know if the same time and money was used examining our current roads. Eminent domain in my part of the state and where I grew up means you better have a bigger gun than I do. This will be detrimental to rural Texas. I believe in democracy. Both political parties have denounced this. Talk to your elected officials. Look them in the eye and ask them where they stand on the issue. If they don’t disagree with the plan vote them out of office.”

Resident Jimmie Simmons suggested adding new lanes to Highway 77 to alleviate some issues.

“I wouldn’t be against adding lanes to Highway 77,” Simmons said. “And we used to have rapid transit here in Ellis County; it was called the Interurban Rail. But they stopped that in the late ’40s. Are the foreign countries gonna be here to maintain this system? Let’s just elevate lanes along Interstate 35 where TxDOT already has the right-of-way. There’s lots of grass along 35 as well. Let’s put some extra lanes there. Much of the growth is coming from illegals anyways.”

Paul Perry also shared his suspicions.

“We remember when the Superconducting Super Collider came to Ellis County,” Perry said. “So forgive us if we’re suspicious of the government. The problem with foreign companies is they aren’t as transparent as our companies. We don’t know what the right hand is doing while the left hand is in Texas.”

Perry also shared his displeasure with the TTC legislation.

“HB 3538 appears to supplement Chapter 21 of the Property Code,” Perry said. “It says you can be evicted from your homestead before you’ve even had your day in court.”

“I’m against the preferred corridor,” Cathy Scott of Forreston said. “I cannot see a 1,200 foot highway coming in that would not adversely affect us.”

“Do we really need this thing?” Bill Norvell asked. “Why is it (the information) so dark? We don’t even know how much it will cost. This is a bad business plan. What happens if this company goes bankrupt? How did something like this get so far along with nothing known about it?”

“I don’t understand the logic behind it,” Todd Bell said. “The road bed is already there up the 360 corridor. Toll roads are by their nature very limited access. And in Kansas you don’t get off the toll road to buy gas or food. How is that beneficial to the surrounding areas?”

But despite the hundreds who showed up unhappy with the statewide project, there was one loan dissenter with the courage to speak up and give his explanation for the project.

“You’re nuts if you don’t think this needs to be built,” Grady Smithey said. “Eighty percent of NAFTA traffic comes through Texas. The best thing that ever happened to my family growing up was when they took the black dirt road outside our house and built a farm-to-market road so we could get to town. But if we’re honest we simply don’t want to tax ourselves to maintain our current highway system. But you like your iPods, CD players and DVD players to remain cheap. TTC is about getting goods into our country. And we’ve been subsidizing everybody else in the country so they can get their goods too. With this plan the users pay the tolls to get the goods in to our country, we don’t pay for the roads. All of you concerned that a foreign country is going to run our highway system - what do you think they’re going to do - are they going to pick up the road and take it with them?”

Upcoming meetings

TxDOT will take its presentation to Hillsboro, Weatherford and McKinney tonight and will be in Corsicana on July 20.

The meetings begin with an open house from 5-6:30 p.m., followed by the hearings.

At 6:30 p.m. a presentation will be given by TxDOT with a short intermission and public testimony to follow.

Those not wishing to give oral comment at the hearings may give written comments at the hearing, mail their comments to TxDOT or comment on the TTC Web site,


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